Jared Martin, Forever ‘Dallas’s’ Lusty Dusty

Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin

Buckle up

Reading Jared Martin’s obituaries over the weekend, I was struck by how many emphasized his connection to “Dallas.” Entertainment Weekly, Deadline Hollywood and several other entertainment news sites mentioned the show in the headlines announcing his death, while the headers from the Associated Press and the Hollywood Reporter went so far as to also include his character’s Louis L’Amour-worthy name, Dusty Farlow. This is somewhat surprising. Not only did Martin have an extensive career beyond “Dallas,” he appeared in just 34 episodes of the original series, or slightly less than 10 percent of the show’s total output.

Yet numbers don’t tell the whole story where Martin’s “Dallas” contributions are concerned, do they? Dusty might not have logged as much screen time as other characters who came and went over the years, but boy, did he make an impression! We mostly remember him as the suitor who swept Sue Ellen off her stilettos, but you also can make a case for Dusty being the most formidable adversary J.R. ever faced. Unlike Cliff Barnes, whom J.R. regarded as a nuisance, Dusty was a genuine threat. He was as rich and as handsome as J.R., and his ranch, the Southern Cross, was even mightier than Southfork. Worst of all, Dusty’s daddy Clayton showed him the kind of love and respect that J.R. craved from Jock but never got. J.R. didn’t just despise Dusty. He envied him.

Indeed, Dusty and J.R. are at the center of so many memorable “Dallas” scenes. Remember their confrontation near the 40-yard line inside the empty Cotton Bowl Stadium? There was absolutely no logical reason for the conversation to take place there, but where else would you expect “Dallas” to stage a clash between two Texas gladiators? Or how about the time J.R. had to present Dusty with the best all-around cowboy award at the end of a Southfork rodeo? Larry Hagman’s gritted teeth in that scene gave J.R.’s wicked grin a whole new level of menace.

It’s also worth noting that at the end of the original “Dallas’s” long run, after J.R. lost Ewing Oil to Cliff and Southfork to Bobby, the character who came along to grind salt into his wounds was none other than Dusty. “Give my regards to Sue Ellen,” he told J.R. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. She dumped you.” On a show that often bungled beloved characters’ final farewells, Dusty got one of the better sendoffs.

Of course, as much fun as “Dallas” had with J.R. and Dusty’s rivalry, nothing really compared to Sue Ellen and Dusty’s romance. He met her when she bumped into him outside a Braddock café, and Martin’s very first line on the show — “Let me help you, ma’am,” delivered as Dusty bent down to collect Sue Ellen’s dropped packages — proved prophetic. Dusty was always helping her pick up the pieces of the life she kept shattering. When J.R.’s goons tried to snatch little John Ross from Sue Ellen’s arms during one of the couple’s custody wars, Dusty swooped in with his own hired guns to save the day. When Sue Ellen went on a bender after Bobby’s death, Dusty whisked her away to a motel so she could dry out for the funeral. He was her knight in shining spurs, although he wasn’t perfect. Never forget that Dusty ultimately chose the rodeo circuit over Sue Ellen — a sign, perhaps, that he carried the craziness gene that drove his mother-slash-aunt, Lady Jessica, over the edge. I mean, what Texan in his right mind would choose to hang around smelly horses instead of sexy Sue Ellen?

Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Linda Gray,, Sue Ellen Ewing

Lady and the cowboy

Through it all, no matter what “Dallas” gave him to do, Martin was one of the show’s most reliable performers. Part of it was his physical appeal: With his smoldering eyes — once described by People as “Newmanously blue” — Martin could give millions of viewers the vapors with just one look. But this man could act, too. Dusty was lusty, and Martin often delivered his lines through a clenched jaw, as if it took everything the character had to contain his passions. His scenes with Linda Gray were especially fiery. Dusty and Sue Ellen didn’t love each other as much as they burned for each other. It’s a credit to both actors that they could take a well-worn trope like the cowboy and the lady — something everyone was doing during the “Urban Cowboy” era of the 1980s, including “Dallas” with its Ray/Donna pairing — and make it feel fresh.

Of all the great scenes Martin and Gray had over the years, one of my favorites remains the time a fur-draped Sue Ellen was reunited with a wheelchair-bound Dusty, one year after the audience believed he perished in a plane crash. (Long before Patrick Duffy’s Bobby was reanimated in the shower, Dusty became the first “Dallas” character to rise from the dead.) The reunion scene is Sirkian: tight close-ups of tear-streaked faces and soapy dialogue like “don’t make me see myself every day in your eyes,” but Gray and Martin bring so much conviction to the material, you can’t help but feel moved. The actors shared a bond in real life, too: When news of Martin’s death broke last Friday, Gray tweeted that she had “such beautiful memories” of working him; his son Christian responded to Gray, telling her that Martin “loved working with you as well.”

Besides “Dallas,” Martin appeared in dozens of other shows and movies, including a starring role on “War of the Worlds,” a promising sci-fi series that petered out after two seasons in 1990. He also was a painter and photographer, and last year, he joined forces with Robert Mrazek, a former New York politician, to co-direct “The Congressman,” a comedy starring Treat Williams. Martin also taught acting and directing, including co-founding a nonprofit group that introduces inner-city kids to filmmaking. In recent days, artists who knew Martin as a mentor have posted tributes to him on social media.

I get the sense Martin took great pride in his work after “Dallas,” but I hope he was also proud of his association with the show. It remains fashionable to dismiss “Dallas” as a 1980s frivolity; just a few months ago, “Twin Peaks” co-creator Mark Frost told an interviewer that “Dallas” was the kind of show that he and David Lynch “wouldn’t be caught dead watching.” It was a snotty comment that ignores “Dallas’s” many contributions to shaping modern television drama, including its role in popularizing prime-time cliffhangers, serialized storylines and all the antiheroes who’ve followed in J.R.’s boot steps. And while it’s always sad to lose actors like Martin, their deaths also give us occasion to remember all that was great about “Dallas” — and how much it has meant to the art of television.

What are your favorite memories of Jared Martin on “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. Wonderful article, Chris!
    I loved the sizzling chemistry between Jared Martin and Linda Gray.

  2. Elizabete says:

    Great text you’ve written, Chris.

  3. Hi Chris, I was hoping you would decode Dusty! What a thoughtful perspective on the character and the actor. Sue Ellen and Dusty certainly sizzled but their connection was very soulful. I loved that about them and the actors who conveyed it.

  4. Vance Blankenbaker says:

    You write beautifully and sensitively. Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

  5. Hi,Chris. How are you doing? Today is Linda Gray’s birthday. Some news about her?
    Best regards.

  6. paul Hernandez says:

    Hi there, I like the scenes between Sue Ellen and Dusty. He was an interesting character. Are you still selling merchandise for 2017? And what about Ted Shackleford, Gary Ewing my favorite out of the Ewing brothers? Paul H in Oxford, England

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